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REVIEW: New expressions of grief offer contemplation, healing


Human beings have centuries of experience with the pain of death and loss. Still, there is a continuing existential struggle to cope with living life after the death of a loved one.
Four recent books serve as guides to help those who face the pain of grief.
Josh Ross. Scarred Faith: This is a story about how Honesty, Grief, a Cursing Toddler, Risk-Taking, AIDS, Hope, Brokenness, Doubts, and Memphis Ignited Adventurous Faith.
Brentwood, Tenn.: Howard Books, 2013. 192 pages. $14.99.
 Following the death of his sister, Josh Ross wrote “Scarred Faith: This is a story about how Honesty, Grief, a Cursing Toddler, Risk-Taking, AIDS, Hope, Brokenness, Doubts, and Memphis Ignited Adventurous Faith .”
Ross recounts the sudden death of his sister Jenny, who was 31.
As Ross, preaching minster for the Sycamore View Church of Christ in Memphis, Tenn., walks readers through the events surrounding this loss, he does not sugarcoat the devastation his sister’s death caused to his faith. He shows a sensitive understanding that for some questions, there are no answers. He writes, “I’ll probably never know why God didn’t heal Jenny.”
The first half of the book centers solidly on the illness and death of his sister, while the second half of the book grapples with the church’s response to loss, poverty, injustice and the ongoing struggles that face many people in the world today. Although both explorations are well done, they do seem a bit disjointed — someone who is seeking a book on grief might not feel ready to use the second half of the book, while someone who would like to read about social justice will not find much of practical use in the first half.
This is an excellent choice for those seeking theological ruminations and honest reactions to grief. This book will create discussion for small groups or classes, particularly among bereaved Christians (but also a wider audience). I was happy to contribute a copy to our church’s grief support group library.
Max Lucado. You’ll Get Through This Study Guide: Hope and Help for Your Turbulent Times.
Nashville, Tenn.: Thomas Nelson, 2013. 195 pages. $24.99. 
One of the best-known Christian writers in the world, Max Lucado, has written “ You’ll Get Through This Study Guide: Hope and Help for Your Turbulent Times .”
Readers of Lucado will not be disappointed with this new title, as he uses stories, fresh insights and spiritual perspectives about the troubles of life and how to face them with faith.
Using the storyline of Joseph, Lucado masterfully compares the struggles of our lives to the plight of Jacob’s favorite son. From the bottom of a pit to the palaces of Egypt, Joseph’s faith inspires us to look beyond our troubles to the God who will see us through them. Using true stories of loss, death, imprisonment and other discouraging circumstances, Lucado points to God’s faithfulness beyond our pain.
In the first chapter, Lucado introduces his go-to encouragement for people he meets who are going through difficult times: “You’ll get through this. It won’t be painless. It won’t be quick. But God will use this mess for good. In the meantime don’t be foolish or naive. But don’t despair either. With God’s help you will get through this.”
In Lucado’s hands, these are not trite and light theological puffs. Rather, they are deeply rooted in the troubled life of Joseph. The questions of suffering and loss are explored compassionately and with a focus on God’s work within tragedy.
A study guide in the back of the book, along with other available resources, makes this an excellent resource for groups and classes.
Mike Stavlund. A Force of Will: The Reshaping of Faith in a Year of Grief.
Ada, Mich.: Baker Books, 2013. 225 pages. $14.99. 
In “A Force of Will: The Reshaping of Faith in a Year of Grief”
by Mike Stavlund, readers will find Christian reflections on life after loss. Stavlund recounts the loss of his infant son, Will, who only lived a short time after his birth. One of the unique features of this book is that it chronicles the first year following the loss of his son.
Even though the writer is filled with expected angst, because of Christ he is also filled with hope. He writes, “We are, all of us, broken vessels of God’s goodness … choosing to hope and offer grace instead of retreating to abject cynicism.”
This book is valuable for someone who has lost a child who was very young. The walk through the first year of grief is revealing and very detailed, sometimes even tedious. There are few books about grief written from the masculine perspective, so this one should prove valuable for fathers grieving over the loss of a young child.
Alice J. Wilser. Getting Out of Bed in the Morning: Reflections of Comfort in Heartache.
Abilene, Texas: Leafwood Publishers, 2013. 176 pages. $13.99.  
For those who desire a daily companion to encourage them along the journey of grief, “Getting Out of Bed in the Morning: Reflections of Comfort in Heartache”
by Alice J. Wisler is a good choice. Wisler, a well-known Christian novelist, writes 15 years after the loss of her 4-year-old son, Daniel, to cancer. This book is written as a daily devotional and is divided into sections that accompany one along the path of loss and sorrow.
Each of the 40 devotionals offers Scripture, encouragement and prayer. At the end of each chapter is a thought to consider during a daily walk. The devotions speak to various familiar aspects of grief in a gentle but helpful manner.
This could easily become the book that friends may keep on hand to give to those who suffer losses. It has an excellent message, is easily read and contains practical suggestions for each day that will be a blessing to those who have suffered losses. I look forward to sharing it with others.

JOHN DOBBS
is preaching minister for the Forsythe Avenue Church of Christ in Monroe, La. He and his wife, Margaret, have two children, one of whom died in 2008 at the age of 18. Dobbs travels and presents a Bible-based seminar, “Getting Acquainted with Grief.” Contact him via his blog, JohnDobbs.com, for more information. 

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